Reading the news right now is a bit like sticking your head into a beehive and succumbing to the thousands of stings as the incessant buzzing of the occupants provides a sonorous background to your passing out.
One of the world’s largest liberal-democracies gears up for an election that promises to be as controversial as it can get. In Poland (and across the world) women and men have taken to the streets in the pro-choice fight. Tensions between France and Turkey are at an all-time high following the return of terrorism, and the beautiful city of Nice has seen yet another manifestation of the ugly side of religious extremism and intolerance.
Mother nature also plays its part with an earthquake in the Aegean affecting Turkey and Greece while typhoons ravage the Philippines. Hurricane Eta threatens impoverished Central America. New Zealand has legalised euthanasia while the reaction to COVID-19 in the rest of the world makes you wonder whether the leaders of our world have not opted for an alternative to euthanasia.
Ah yes. COVID-19. The bastard has kept us company for most of 2020 now. It is a joke that can no longer be laughed off. My biggest worry right now is our children. A whole generation is growing up with a massively traumatic experience that might very well be exacerbated by the hapless decisions of our ruling classes. The numbers have become too alarming to ignore and everywhere you look a new series of lockdowns seems to be an impending reality.
Resistance to the scientifically obvious still pervades the general sentiment. Even if you rule out Mad Hatters like The Donald you are still left with an army of spineless politicians who are easily swayed by arguments coming from the market. Money, alas, still talks. In the meantime, the swelling numbers of those who passed away ‘with underlying conditions’ or ‘after contracting COVID-19’ do not seem to shake them into sensible and rational decision making.
It breaks my heart. The disdain with which our society seems to treat its vulnerable. It is becoming more and more obvious. A budget of empty slogans will do little to assuage the grief of the families of the latest victims. The lies and propaganda from the government of a captured State are in fact short term wins as the frailty of a system that has long been undermined by corruption and ineptitude is exposed.
The question I am left asking is: Who cares?. I asked last week whether we have some form of superhuman system of anger management that allows us to brush all these troubles under the carpet. I’m still unsure of that. Is it maybe then that we do not care?
Could the revelation after revelation in public inquiries, in leaks, in discoveries by the little portion of the brave press not provoke any form of reaction? Maybe it is because nobody cares.
Indeed, it might be that simple. We have gotten used to our tiny microcosm. We have been fed the myth of national greatness. We have nurtured the idea of a people that will always come out good, against all odds. And so, while Rome burns, we take refuge in our little abodes convinced that the problems out there are other people’s problems, and we do not really need to care.
Could it be that we will only care when the next number in the ‘underlying conditions’ figure is one of our own? A mother, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother, or a friend? Have we been numbed by the transformation of the abnormal into the normal?
Are thieving politicians and a network of nepotists and kleptomaniacs the kind of society we deserve? For how long can we live on indifference?
COVID-19 victims are not numbers. Hungry children in the UK left to the mercy of charities over the school break are not numbers. Our generation of elderly is not a number. The indifference we are witnessing today is shameful. It says much about the society we choose.
We need to relearn our civic duties, our collective and individual responsibilities. We need to restart, to think in terms of the common good by understanding that helping the weakest among us means ensuring our society is healthy and safe. We need to go back to being human before it is too late.
One last thing. I would like to remember Fr Lino Cardona. He was my first Italian teacher who for some funny reason instilled fear in me as a student but was as good and genuine a teacher as any other. I apologise to Fr Cardona in the name of this society who was not there for him when it most counted. You were not a number to us, the hundreds of students whose lives you influenced. You were surely not simply “the 60th COVID-19 victim” to us.
The outpouring of messages by your former pupils following your passing away is proof that you taught us how to care. That is much bigger than a government statistic, Fr Cardona. Farewell and rest in peace.
Follow Jacques Rene Zammit on his blog J’Accuse.